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Let Partner Trade Professionals Do What They Do Best

We’ve all gotten the call from a new client to do a project after the electrician or general contractor ran all the low-voltage wires.  If it isn’t your job or profession, you shouldn’t do the work (unless you are doing it DIY at home).

If it isn’t your job or profession, you shouldn’t do the work (unless you are doing it DIY at home). We’ve all gotten the call from a new client to do a project after the electrician or general contractor ran all the low-voltage wires. How many times has the coax for the TV on the brick wall been wired to behind the TV and not to the cable box location? Now you have to explain to the client that the brick has to be removed or you have to jury-rig a cable box behind the TV, but now the audio can’t go through the sound system.

This isn’t a great situation for anyone. We, as the AV integrator are the bearers of bad news, the other tradesman looks bad and the client is unhappy, so everyone loses. What should have happened? The client should have called an AV expert. The electrician should have told the client that they don’t do low-voltage work and recommended an AV expert—or at the very least hired an AV integrator as a “consultant” to develop a wiring plan.

Make sure you aren’t the one making the mistake. The mistakes we make by taking on more than we can chew may cost us our businesses. I know a lot of us in the industry—myself included—are very excited about selling and integrating lighting, shading, HVAC, and security solutions. We can continue to sell and integrate these products, but we shouldn’t be installing them (except for security if you are trained and licensed to do it). It is very easy to sell a client a new lighting and shading solution from Crestron, Control4, Lutron, Savant, URC, or any number of manufacturers and be sucked into installing the devices as well. Hey, you installed it at your own home or showroom, and it’s been working great for years. So why not do it at the client’s home as well? But, today, especially with LED lighting, wiring and compatibility for these products can be very tricky. There are dozens of issues that can pop up, just like when you can’t get sound out of an AVR. You know every trick in the book to get the AVR working just right, but you don’t install lights day in and day out; and you likely aren’t licensed to either. Particularly with electrical work, you are risking severe damage, fire, and even personal injury to a client. Do you want to take that risk?

The same thing goes with HVAC, shading, and security. It may sound easy to just swap out that old thermostat for a new one. Heck, every DIYer does it when they buy one at Home Depot. But they are doing it themselves and when something doesn’t work perfectly, they only have themselves to blame. If you do it as a professional and it doesn’t work perfectly, then you’re getting the phone call at 10 p.m. when the heat won’t go on in the middle of the winter and you need to get someone there ASAP. It’s the same spiel I used to give to clients about why I didn’t sell or program Harmony remotes.

And the last thing you want to get involved with is something as closely tied to personal taste as shading decisions. Just as I won’t get involved with paint colors with a client, I won’t get involved with shading decisions. I will help them with how to control the shades and setting the scenes, but shade type and color, that is not my expertise and I do not want there to be even a whiff of a chance that they can blame me if they don’t like the color or design choice, especially with something as custom made as shading.

Here is what I tell clients: I can source, design, and program a fantastic, easy-to-use system. I will specify the parts that you need and will procure them. But you need a different type of professional to install them, be it a dimmer, switch, window shading system, HVAC controller, or security panel). I have made the mistake of being nice and putting in a light switch or two. That is always what comes to bite me later. I know it is hard, but you have to learn to defer and say no to those types of requests. It is very easy with electrical; you likely are not licensed or insured to touch it. For hanging a shade, you just have to let the client know that installing shades is not your specialty and that a professional is needed to make sure the shade operates perfectly and isn’t damaged.

I have developed a stable of reliable professionals in each specialty (electricians, interior designers, HVAC, security, window coverings, and lighting designers) to ensure that my clients are being taken care of by a professional, and they are getting top-notch attention, care, advice, and work. And my partner professionals all know that when a client has a question about AV or low-voltage wiring, that I am the expert, and they refer their clients to me.

+Todd Anthony Puma
is president of The Source Home Theater Installation, Powered by Fregosa Design, in New York City.